AUSTIN (Austin Business Journal/KXAN) — The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission approved rules Tuesday intended to make it easier for bars to legally operate as restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state agency greatly expanded rules that had already offered a limited lifeline for some bars to temporarily reclassify themselves and generate a sliver of sales during the coronavirus crisis. The goal is to provide more ways for businesses to qualify as restaurants under Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order GA-28, which prohibits bars from reopening but allows restaurants to remain open at 50% capacity.
TABC’s amendments to Rule 33.5, which deals with food and beverage certificates, go into effect immediately.
The amended rules mean that bars can now reopen whether or not they have commercial-grade kitchens. Off-site food will also be allowed to be sold at the bars. This would include packaged items.
Additionally, bars will be able to more easily partner with food trucks. Sales from these food orders will be able to count toward the TABC’s rule that alcohol must account for less than 51% of the establishment’s gross revenue in order for it to open as a restaurant.
The reopening rules originally went into effect May 1 and were then rolled back nearly two months later, when Gov. Greg Abbott announced on June 26 that all bars must shut down at noon that day.
Abbott, however, allowed businesses with mixed beverage permits to begin selling alcohol to-go — rules that TABC placed some restrictions on, including the requirement for food to accompany the drinks.
Bars that have been unable to pivot into more of the restaurant-based business models remain closed, however. Earlier this month, organizers of a Facebook group called “Texas Bars Fight Back!” gathered in front of the TABC headquarters in Austin to protest their continued shut down.
Protesters expressed their frustration that restaurants have been allowed to stay open, while bars can’t.
In response to bar owner complaints, Abbott said while he sympathized with business owners, he’d need to see positivity rates decline, hospital rooms open up and for bars to have concrete strategies to prevent spread once they’re open.
You can view the full amended rules at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.